Highlights from 2023 PHOTOFAIRS New York

It isn’t often that a new photography-centric art fair decides to dive into the maelstrom of the New York art fair circuit. After the breakdown of the partnership between Paris Photo and AIPAD, New York has been left without a contemporary focused look at the medium – contemporary photography is of course on view at plenty of contemporary art fairs in the city throughout the year, but photographs are often less prominently featured in these fairs (as was the case at the recent Armory Show, here). With AIPAD’s fair limiting its exhibitors to association members (and seemingly trending a bit more vintage in its focus), an opening has developed, and PHOTOFAIRS New York has stepped into that opportunity.

The idea of a contemporary focused photo fair has plenty of exciting possibilities. It encourages the photo specialist galleries to prominently feature their contemporary work, and perhaps even more importantly, it provides a place for the contemporary galleries who have a handful of photographers in their stables to show off that work in a relevant context. It was certainly refreshing to see contemporary galleries like Bitforms, Postmasters, and others offering photo-centric booths – this is the kind of work (some of it more digital media/computing focused) that has largely fallen out of the photography conversation as presented by art fairs, but undeniably deserves a place in the broader photo dialogue. If PHOTOFAIRS New York can create a welcoming home for galleries like these (in terms of the economics and the eventual sell through) and can over time entice more and more of the large contemporary players to attend with their photography and other lens-based works, the medium will certainly benefit.

In many ways, this first iteration of PHOTOFAIRS New York felt like a successful proof of concept. There were enough participating galleries to fill a spacious hall at the Javits Center (smartly just down the hall from the Armory Show, thereby enticing some visitor spillover). The booths were roomy, allowing the galleries to show more (and bigger) work. There were a few museum and non-profit participants. There was the beginnings of a public program of talks and panels. Printed Matter was there with a photography-focused book selection, so the photobook angle was included a bit. And there was a large installation in the entry area, embracing the idea that photography need not be limited to framed prints on the walls of a booth. Seen as an integrated whole, the structure of this fledgling photography fair was solid – its eventual longevity will lie in whether it can expand these offerings and successfully attract enough attendees and collectors to make the math work for everyone involved. All in, it was a promising start.

The slideshow below gathers together a selection of the works that grabbed my attention, and as usual, the individual images are accompanied by linked gallery names, artist/photographer names, and prices where appropriate, along with further description and analysis.

Jackson Fine Art (here): This image by Tabitha Soren was part of her “Surface Tension” project (reviewed here) but wasn’t included in the photobook. A blown kiss image sits underneath the gestural swipes left on a tablet screen, adding physical interaction to a digital exchange. Priced at $8000.

Huxley-Parlour Gallery (here): This digital composite from 2020 by Ruud van Empel creates an insistently linear landscape out of layered bamboo poles. The artist’s cleaned up aesthetic remains instantly recognizable, even when there are no figures hiding in the jungle. Priced at $35000.

193 Gallery (here): Thandiwe Muriu’s visual illusionism blends fashion styling and geometric textiles, creating colorful setups that exude freshness and energy. The Kenyan photographer’s execution is razor sharp, giving a relatively straightforward decorative idea some eye-popping punch. Priced at €7500.

The Center for Photography at Woodstock (here): This lyrical photograph by Genesis Báez connects the artist to her mother via the shadow of a string. It’s a tenuous link between the generations, cleverly made visible. NFS (since CPW is a non-profit organization not a commercial gallery).

Staley-Wise Gallery (here): This 1967 fashion image by Melvin Sokolsky uses black light and movement to create bright smears that drift across the model’s face. The result is hauntingly Blade Runner futuristic for a picture made more than a half century ago. Priced at $35000 (as a modern print).

Howard Greenberg Gallery (here): This early 1930s image by Walker Evans turns hanging laundry into an elegantly criss-crossed formal exercise. Between the dark silhouettes near the bottom and the translucent garments near the top, Evans uses the contrasts of dark and light with controlled mastery. The thin electrical wires add to the complexity, pulling us back and forth from edge to edge. Priced at $50000.

Howard Greenberg Gallery (here): A selection of small fashion images by Deborah Turbeville from 1975 were clustered together on a side wall in this booth, each a single moment in an ever evolving combination of mirrors and models. This picture combines the delicate bow at the back of the black dress in the foreground with at least two additional layers of distance compressed into one plane. Priced at $1800.

Von Lintel Gallery (here): Melanie Willhide’s work has long embraced the effects of chance and glitching, and this new body of work continues that exploration, with scans of flowers (some real, others artificial) that have become drippy and distorted. This particular composition is thick with layering and manipulation, with nature becoming increasingly pushed out of its normal boundaries, providing a resonant echo of the effects of climate change. Priced at $6400.

Sous Les Etoiles Gallery (here): This colorful mid 1990s abstraction by Gottfried Jäger explores the breakdown of observed color. Starting with a pinhole image, the artist then scanned and enlarged the fragment, revealing its layered pixelization. The colors blend and shift with unexpected clarity, where squinted fuzziness turns out to be hard edged. Priced at $15000.

NIL Gallery (here): Trotro minibus doors provide the organizing framework for this series of works by the Ghanaian artist Caleb Kwarteng Prah. Here the window of the bright pink sliding door houses a collaged-in image of two men on a scooter, their matching hats and track suits exuding local style. Priced at €5000.

Atlas Gallery (here): Kacper Kowalski has built his photographic career around different forms of aerial observation, and this image (from a recent project titled “Event Horizon”) furthers that interest. What looks like a monochrome abstraction turns out to be a winter scene, with icy frozen lakes cracked and pockmarked by blackness. Priced at $3000 (in the smaller size).

Bitforms Gallery (here): This floral image by Ellie Pritts is actually a film still from a larger video work, with scan lines, digital residues, rendering glitches, and AI warps transforming the blossom into a shifting approximation. Up close, the textures are surprisingly fluid, like an over-inked print. Priced at $1750.

Robert Mann Gallery (here): This embroidered work from 2023 by Hagar Vardimon extends the colors in a found photograph into an elongated blur. The poolside figure becomes gloriously streaked, as if dissolving in the wind or breaking down into constituent atoms. Priced at $1400.

Asya Geisberg Gallery (here): This new work by Rodrigo Valenzuela, from the series “Garabato”, finds the artist embracing more biomorphic forms. Sculptural white plaster globs like torsos and fingers sit atop metal poles, interlocking in a mixed network of machined and organic surfaces. Priced at $6500.

Sasha Wolf Projects (here): This 2017 portrait of “Jimmy” by Bryan Schutmaat simmers with intensity. Between his unexpected tan lines, the contrasts of light and dark in his clothing, the textural surfaces behind him, and his unwavering stare, the image pulls us into an unknown narrative. It’s a photograph filled with potential discoveries, executed with an exacting sense of observational precision. Priced at $5500.

Sasha Wolf Projects (here): In making a memorable photograph, sometimes a quiet gesture is all that is required. This 2021 image by Rahim Fortune features the bent elbow of a touch to the head, the contrasts of light and dark turning the form nearly into a silhouette. Both an elegant study of angles and a gently introspective moment, the picture operates on several levels. Priced at $5000.

Montrasio Arte (here): This booth featured a large installation of images from Luigi Ghirri’s “Atlante” project from 1973. Each photograph is an isolated fragment of a map, where the undulations of mountains, the textures of water, the grid lines of latitude and longitude, and the faded colors of the original atlas are re-imagined with a kind of magical uncertainty. Priced at $490000 for the entire set of 18 vintage prints.

JHB Gallery (here): Amanda Means is perhaps best known for her close up studies of light bulbs, abut her earlier series of water glasses is worth rediscovering. Each glass was placed in her enlarger, with light cast through the glass back onto light sensitive paper, making the resulting images photograms. Each transparent bubble and fog of condensation has been captured with scientific accuracy, drawing us into a world of unexpectedly engrossing detail. Priced at $15000.

JHB Gallery (here): Ellen Carey has been making abstractions using her 20×24 Polaroid camera for more than two decades now, and this set of works finds her doubling her pulled cones of color back on themselves for a second pass through the camera, creating an elliptical form. Up close, crackles of chemical residue disrupt the color fields. Priced at $144000.

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Read more about: Amanda Means, Bryan Schutmaat, Caleb Kwarteng Prah, Deborah Turbeville, Ellen Carey, Ellie Pritts, Genesis Báez, Gottfried Jäger, Hagar Vardimon, Kacper Kowalski, Luigi Ghirri, Melanie Willhide, Melvin Sokolsky, Rahim Fortune, Rodrigo Valenzuela, Ruud van Empel, Tabitha Soren, Thandiwe Muriu, Walker Evans, 193 Gallery, Asya Geisberg Gallery, Atlas Gallery, Bitforms Gallery, Howard Greenberg Gallery, Huxley-Parlour, Jackson Fine Art, JHB Gallery, Montrasio Arte, NIL Gallery, Robert Mann Gallery, Sasha Wolf Projects, Sous Les Etoiles Galllery, Staley-Wise Gallery, Von Lintel Gallery, PHOTOFAIRS New York

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